most local models and localized celebrities in town, headshots and
designed photos are a must. Whether you're promoting yourself or your
company or just the brand you're under, the adage of “a picture
says a thousand words” couldn't be any more factual. And for many
the standard shot just won't do, so they seek out photographers who
are willing to experiment and go a more unique route. But for some of
the most artistic, bizarre and just plain awe inspiring photos
around, there's one company that's got the edge on everyone else in
--- BellaOra Studios is the brain child of two highly accomplished (and recently married) photogs, Todd and Renee Keith, showcasing their work with both people around the state as well as their own brands of stock photography. Commercialized only via their website and word of mouth from satisfied clients, the duo have made a name for themselves in local entertainment circles and have become secret favorites of bands, models and other personalities. I got a chance to chat with the two of them about their careers and working together, plus their thoughts on local photogtaphy.
Todd & Renee Keith
Gavin: Hey guys! First off, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Renee: We are a happily married couple who love to travel, art, movies, friendships, dinner parties, and focus on creating the artistic side of stock photography.
Todd: Let's just say I'm a digital addict of sorts! As a full time commercial and stock photographer, I enjoy combining the beauty and unique perspectives of visual arts with the digital world. It's awesome for me to be able to combine my work with my love and interests for my family, friendships, travel, nature, sports and life. I love my work and feel like I have the dream job where I get paid to do the things I want, how when and where I want. On top of this, being married to my hot wife who shares these interests and passions is like the icing on the cake. Besides photography, I enjoy a ton of other stuff including good food, travel, camping, movies, sports, motorcycles, flying, skiing, family excursions... oh, and video games Haha!
Gavin: What first got you interested in photography?
Renee: In my 20's, I would often travel to Hawaii, fascinated with taking pictures of sunsets, flowers, and mountains. Part of my motivation was to always come home and put them online to share them with the world. One day, a lady contacted me and asked if she could buy one of the images royalty free. Not knowing what that was, I searched for other contracts and found iStockphoto. Once I found that, I dropped everything else I was doing in life (besides friends and family of course) and became highly addicted. About a year later, I felt like I was having an identity crisis! I suddenly realized that I passionately loved photography and that’s what I wanted to do with my life.
Todd: I must have been about ten years old when my parents bought me my first camera and I caught the photo bug. I remember hours of fun times laying in the grass in my backyard while posing my friends and siblings to distort perspectives and create the illusions of tiny people standing in the palm of a hand, great feats of strength and silly superpowers and such. Throughout my childhood and teens, I loved a variety of different art classes, photography, design and computers.
Gavin: Did either of you seek out any college for the art or were you more self-taught?
Renee: I am self taught. But I did start a photography club in 2004, I gained a lot of knowledge through others, and also by putting myself in a position to teach. My other teacher was iStockphoto… every contributor has had rejections when trying to get images on the site. They mostly point out technical mistakes, which makes you go look at your images and study them, which leads to taking better photos.
Todd: Though I did take a number of art classes and some photography in my childhood, most of my experience has been self-taught. While taking college classes I landed a job working in a graphic design department in the early 90's... this is when I was introduced to Photoshop and the art of photography in the digital world. When pro film cameras started making the switch to digital ten years later it was a natural transition for me which actually was a catalyst for me in pursuing my photos as a career.
Gavin: What was it like for you both breaking into it professionally and how did things go for each of you in the first year?
Renee: I’m trying to look back and find the time I feel like I became professional. Is it about how good you are at what you do, or how much money you make? Artist’s in the world would understand that questions, haha. I started shooting stock photography in 2004 -- making pennies, felt professional by 2006 -- still making pennies, worked a few local photography jobs in 2007 and 2008 including a modeling agency and professional studio. And it wasn’t until 2009 that I was solely able to live off of my stock photography income, and pay the model’s that we like to work with. If I had to pick a year I truly became professional it would be 2009, and it really was a fantastic year, but not even close to as good as 2010.
Todd: I'd say until around four years ago, I hadn't really considered pursuing photography as a career. I'd had a successful sales management career in technology and communication software and my design and photography work had always been something I did as a hobby or part time on the side. I remember an early morning I was downtown in Salt Lake shooting some cityscape photos and I bumped into another photographer who was from Australia doing the same. He was a full time travel stock photographer that spent many months of the year on the road shooting all kinds of travel imagery and he was making a pretty good living at it. I thought to myself how awesome it would be to leave my 9-5 desk job and make a living out of my photos and digital work and decided to put a plan together and make it happen. It was actually about a two year transition for me working both in my sales job and shooting for my profession before I was able to make the jump to full time. Without a significant savings or some start-up capital, I think it would be a challenge to break into the career within less then 18-24 month time frame. Even start-up costs for just basic professional camera, lenses, lights, computers and software will easily run you tens of thousands of dollars.
Gavin: When did the two of you meet each other and eventually marry?
Renee: We met in 2008 during an SLC Photo Club meeting. Todd was encouraged to come through a guy that I worked with at the time. Knowing that they knew each other, I invited him to a shoot we had planned the next night. Anyways, we hit it off right away and have spent almost every day together ever since. We got married in Italy July 7th 2010 overlooking Lake Como… It was wildly romantic and Todd is really the most wonderful, amazing man I have ever met!
Todd: I'll just add that she's not only my love and business partner but also my best friend and inspiration. It's made all the difference in the world to be in a supportive relationship with a creative, loving and passionate spouse who shares common interests but brings a unique perspective to our work.
Gavin: How did the idea come about to start up BellaOra Studios, and where did the name come from?
Todd: As Renee mentioned earlier we met through photography and we started shooting together almost exclusively. I had been shooting prior to that under another individual studio name and we wanted to create one together which would represent our combined efforts and bodies of work. The name "BellaOra" is Italian for "beautiful moment or time" and one of our shared goals with our work is to capture and preserve beautiful moments through photography... it seemed like a good fit and I like how it rolls off the tongue!
Gavin: What was it like starting it up and how did things go during your first year open?
Todd: BellaOra Studios is more an outlet for our showcasing our work then a brick and mortar business studio we staff full time. We did run a number of public photography workshops last year through the studio but now have turned to doing most all training on a one on one basis in custom sessions. We've taken on many commercial projects through the studio in the past but currently don't market the studio or our commercial work except our website and word of mouth. The majority of our work and shoots today are directed to building our individual stock portfolios which keep us more then busy.
Gavin: For personal choices, do you prefer traditional film or digital, and why?
Renee: I love digital, and it’s probably honestly because of the instant satisfaction. I like to see my images right away, I like digital editing, and I love posting images online sometimes even the same day as the shoot. Film can be a lot of fun too… I do have a Holga camera, and an old antique Hasselblad. The cost of film has discouraged me a bit, and I am currently not motivated much to go in that direction because of it. Although I do like the idea of experiencing a dark room at some point.
Todd: I prefer digital because I have so much fun with the post shoot processing and compositional work. I also enjoy being able to view my work and compositional elements real time during a shoot. Digital has made this very easy. I'm also now starting to get into shooting HD video as well which is another function many professional cameras provide.
Gavin: While were on the topic, what kind of equipment do you choose to shoot with?
Todd: Renee and I both shoot primarily with the Cannon 5D Mark II digital body and a variety of lenses and lighting modifiers (speedflashes) and Profoto Studio Lighting.
Gavin: You both also shoot a lot of stock photography. For those who don't know the process, how do you choose what to go shoot and how do people end up using your material?
Renee: First of all, there are all different kinds of stock photography… there is what I call “vanilla” which to me is boring, well lit, everyday concepts, smiling at the camera, they sells like hot cakes. I may shoot “vanilla” stuff here and there to help pay the bills. My true passion lies in shooting the artsy side of stock, where there are no limits to creativity. If we can think it, and dream it, and afford to set it up with props, models, makeup artist, wardrobe, etc… then we can shoot it for stock photography. Once we get the images uploaded and accepted to iStockphoto or Getty Images, they become available to designers around the world. They search for images to use in their design projects. So our work could end up on book covers, billboards, magazines, and ads around the world and often do.
Todd: For me the big draw in stock photography is being able to shoot what you want how and where you want. With stock, we come up with concepts or imagery we are interested in creating rather then shooting an event for someone else. Stock photography can really be anything because it has such a wide range of uses. Everyday hundreds of thousands of stock images are purchased and sold online to people across the globe. If you need imagery for marketing, a website or even a blog or party invitation, it's likely that you can find stock photos which will be affordable and relevant to your specific needs. We typically like to go for more of an edgy or artistic look with much or our stock work but I've also been known to shoot more mainstream generic subjects which have a broader market appeal.
Gavin: Considering the work you both do, do you prefer the artistic stock or profile shots?
Renee: I prefer artistic side of stock of course! I love creating my own original concepts, and showing personality through my work.
Todd: I love it all but I defiantly lean toward the more artistic and edgy stylized work. Even my profile work is often very stylized to represent my individual and personal touch.
Gavin: What's the reaction been like from people when they check out your work?
Renee: When I tell people what I shoot, sometimes I get “Why?”, My response is,“You say why? I say why not?” Once they see our work, people smile and seem to understand why we do it. Because it looks cool.
Todd: In most cases, we've received an overwhelmingly warm response from people when they check out our work. Technically and creatively we are always pushing one another to better our work and experiment with new original material, I think this shows in our portfolios and is respected by our viewers, peers and models.
Gavin: Are there any plans to expand the business or mainly sticking to what you're doing for now?
Todd: We are always kicking around new "billion dollar" ideas of fun and new things and applications we can explore with our work. There has been a few ideas we really would like to see get off the ground but we'd need to raise some significant start-up cash to make them happen. The industry is always changing and we try to embrace and run with new opportunities as they unfold. I know we'd both like to integrate more international travel into our future plans and work and see where that takes us.
Gavin: Moving onto state-wide stuff, what are your thoughts on the local photography and art scenes, both good and bad?
Renee: Utah really has some of the most amazing artist’s! I love seeing local restaurants feature artwork, and that we have the whole Gallery Stroll thing going on. Whoever is out there supporting the art world, should be proud! In my opinion, we need even more state funded projects to get art more visible to the public. When I see art, I see culture… so I love going to cities where art is everywhere. I think SLC has plenty of room for growth as far as being an artsy town. Although, we do have a good start! Oh, and the local art festivals need to feature more artists in the state rather than outside of it!
Todd: Yeah, Renee is dead on with her summary of the local scene!
Gavin: Is there anything you feel could be done to make them more prominent?
Todd: I think more promotion and media coverage showcasing local work and shows and more business owners getting involved in ways including sponsorship and venues.
Gavin: Aside yourselves, are there any local photographers who you view are at the top of their game?
Renee: There are too many to name!
Gavin: What can we expect from you both over the rest of the year?
Todd: A lot of our time is going to be spent catching up on editing images we took earlier this year, but we will also have a few fun creative shoots here and there including a few more body paintings!
Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to promote or plug?
Renee: Our studio website, our Body Painting Work, SLC Photo Club, Renee's Facebook page, and our Stock Portfolios that you can find here and here.
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